From the NY Times:
New York, never at a loss for self-congratulatory words, regards itself as the most tolerant of cities, a place where one may express any thought freely. It is true. In New York, one may articulate any idea whatsoever — as long as that idea parallels popular opinion.
Stray too far from generally accepted wisdom, though, and you are asking for trouble.
The latest to discover this reality is a Texas group called Life Always, which bought billboard space in SoHo to deliver an anti-abortion message rooted in recent statistics from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. They showed that in 2009, 41 percent of all pregnancies here ended in abortion. The abortion rate for black women was even higher, almost 60 percent.
Up went the billboard on a building at the corner of Avenue of the Americas and Watts Street. It showed a black girl with these words above her head: “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”
Was this anti-abortion statement subtle? Hardly. Accurate? Depends on your politics. Offensive? For some people, yes. Out of step with mainstream thought in New York? For sure. And so, a few days ago in this most tolerant of cities, a raft of elected officials wasted no time calling for the billboard’s removal.
Lickety-split, the sign came down...
Some who objected to the sign complained that it was provocative. Of course it was. Since when is the American concept of free speech confined to opinions that are nice and safe and unlikely to cause a ripple?
Some also saw the message as racist. Clearly, it was racial. But racial and racist are not one and the same...
This plain act of censorship was not isolated. Rather, it fit into an established New York pattern of squelching unpopular opinions.
Bill de Blasio, the public advocate and one of the influential figures who demanded removal of the anti-abortion billboard, saw no assault on free speech. There should never be a law prohibiting this sort of sign, Mr. de Blasio said, “but to have a serious debate, to have people express their outrage, and then to have a private owner of the advertising space decide that it was ultimately not appropriate, that to me is a functioning democracy.”
Not quite, said Norman Siegel, a leading civil liberties lawyer. To him, freedom of expression took a hit.
“The principle of free speech is easy when the speech is something that’s popular and noncontroversial,” Mr. Siegel said. “The real test is when you disagree with the content of the speech and you still defend the right of someone to articulate the message.”
The city, he said, just flunked that test.
Looks like Democrats voted for the wrong public advocate candidate. It's wrong when conservatives do it, too. At least the Supreme Court got it right this time.